Reflecting on Cinematica at Arcadia

Rosa Francesca reflects on her recent Nest-supported exhibition at Arcadia Gallery

From January 11th-16th I was at Arcadia Gallery in Coventry for a second showing of my project Cinematica, which uses an EEG brain monitor in combination with a pen plotter to create brain-controlled drawings. Members of the public were invited to come in to the gallery and have a go at creating a drawing by trying on the Muse headband and watching the plotter work. Drawings were either kept by the participants, or displayed on the wall.

A13A92AA-9E3A-4EB5-82F5-49C5B8818B59For this second exhibition I changed the design to a sort of geometric flower that moved in a clockwise direction. I found that having a circular design benefitted the project as the pen was far less likely to travel beyond the limits of the plotter and therefore I didn’t have to keep stopping the program to reposition the pen, but also because moving in a repeated clockwise motion meant it was easier to spot variations in brainwaves. I continued to alter the design during the exhibition between visitors, changing the size and shapes slightly. I also found that there was a lot of variation between my brainwaves and brainwaves of participants, so on the third day of the exhibition I began to spend more time on calibration; I would set them up with the brain monitor, look at the programme for a while to see the values coming in from the EEG, so that I could figure out the range of their waves and adjust the programme accordingly.

One of the most interesting findings was when a man brought in his eight-year-old daughter. Although her brainwaves showed on the Muse Monitor app (the app I use to read the EEG waves via bluetooth), no data appeared in the computer programme that the brainwaves are streamed into and therefore I was unable to draw anything. Numbers either displayed as 0 or ‘-inf’. Initially I considered that this was because children’s brains are known to have vastly different EEG results than adults, as their brains are less developed. However, the next day I saw a young child of around three years old who had very clear results in a similar range to some of the adults who had visited. From this I can only guess that the first girl had just not been able to fit the monitor properly, for example if it was not tight enough or not positioned at the right height on her forehead.

B95FBE0F-B0D2-42FD-9915-60FC6963D447For the next outing I would like to improve some of the technical aspects; I need to get used to the routine of calibrating and making sure I explain properly how to wear the brain monitor, as some people had difficulty fitting the headband and therefore there was a weak connection (and in one case, non-existent). I would possibly use better quality paper, and better pens. Sometimes the ink came out too light, partly because of bad quality pens, but also because I needed to adjust motor speed so that the pen was spending long enough in one spot for the ink to reach the page. I also need to work on getting the drawings more centered so that there is more consistency when comparing drawings. It was suggested that I pick shapes such as lines that are easy to compare as well, which is something I intend to work on throughout this year.

There was an overwhelmingly positive response to the work. The majority of visitors were other artists who had found out about my work through Twitter or Instagram, and a couple of people who also worked in the City Arcade also came in to try it out. Some visitors had specific interests in plotters and fabrication so they were particularly excited by this project. I felt that it was a great opportunity to network with Coventry artists and get to know the scene. I’m excited to continue developing this project as the years goes on!

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[Photos from Rosa’s Twitter Feed @RosaFrancsArt]

“Thought provoking and engaging with a neat pay off.” [Audience Comment]

We had a fantastic time testing the new version of Capsule at the weekend and we are really pleased with how well it works!

We can’t say too much for fear of spoiling it, but see below for some of the great feedback we received, as well as a couple of teaser pictures taken by Andy Moore. But where can you buy tickets? That’s easy… Right here! Public performances start are from this Saturday to Tuesday.

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“Really impressed – it was fully immersive!”

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“Fantastic experience! A great way to spend an afternoon…”

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“A unique opportunity for audience.”

Capsule

What’s inside?

Capsule
The Box, FarGo Village, Coventry, CV1 5ED.

25th-28th January

Join us on an immersive, thrilling voyage over and under water where nothing is quite as it seems. You can expect music, an intimate story and, once you disembark, you’ll want to pass on all that you have learned.

Capsule is a unique experience for 6 people at a time, we’d love for you to be a part of it. See here for tickets and more info!

“A different kind of experience.”

Audiences for Capsule are capped at 6 people at a time, so make sure you get your tickets for your preferred time slot sooner rather than later to avoid disappointment! We can’t wait to share this experience with you, meet us inside… 

‘…a totally enclosed window for us to explore, experiment, and create exactly what we wanted…’

Ryan Leder of Theatre in Black reflects on their recent Nest Residency:

‘Loop’ was conceived between myself (Ryan Leder, playwright) and Helen Crevel (performer) on a week-long residency in ARC Stockton. At the time, we didn’t know what we wanted to make – we arrived with only ourselves, a loop station, and a copy of Duncan MacMillan’s ‘Every Brilliant Thing’. Originally, we thought we were exploring legacy, but by the middle of the week – we were talking about a subject we both felt much more personal about: loneliness.

This meant we were making a show for people who felt lonely. This meant we couldn’t expect audiences to come to us. We needed to make a show that reached our audience physically and with resonance. Walk in: Talking Birds.

Our introduction to Talking Birds was one of those wonderful accidents – I was taking part in China Plates’ Optimists scheme where Talking Birds were a guest speaker. As they spoke about non-conventional spaces and reaching audiences, I felt like the stars had aligned. I only approached them to ask for some advice, but was instead encouraged to apply for the Nest Residency. We did, it was successful, and suddenly the whole project seemed considerably more achievable.

Our residency took the form of: a week-long research and development in Theatre Absolute’s Shop Front Theatre in Coventry: a financial contribution to help with the costs of that week: access to the difference engine for ‘Loop’s tour this November/December.

For those of you unaware, Shop Front Theatre is exactly as it says – a converted shopfront in a shopping centre, now one of the most exciting and unique theatre spaces in the Midlands. The team and I personally dubbed it “the perfect place for research and development, the worst place for rehearsals” – because being there didn’t feel like work.

There was no pressure, no outside eye asking us to justify our time – we were in a safe and supportive space that we were allowed to temporarily make our own. We were literally given a key – and thus offered absolutely flexibility to work exactly how we felt necessary for the process. It was a joy to travel to that space each day – and some of the best work of my career so far took place with the city centre right outside the theatres window walls.

The financial contribution was the addition that made it feel as though the whole thing was too good to be true. So often at these emerging stages space and support can feel like all you deserve, but Talking Birds recognised the time and risk involved – and offered to take it off our hands. Suddenly the space they’d provided became not only a physical one, but one in time – a totally enclosed window for us to explore, experiment, and create exactly what we wanted for the betterment of our audience.

At time of writing, we are a few weeks away from rehearsals for ‘Loop’, and Talking Birds’ support has been integral. The show has grown and evolved in ways that we couldn’t have anticipated 2 months ago, yet alone one year, and we now feel like we have something that can truly achieve our aim of reaching audiences, physically and with resonance.

Thank you to Talking Birds.

If you’re interested seeing our show, we’ll be performing at:
The Core at Corby Cube, Nov 22nd
ARC Stockton, Nov 27th
Mansfield Old Library, Nov 28th
Arena Theatre, Nov 29th
Forest Arts Centre, Dec 3rd
Attenborough Arts Centre, Dec 5th

Ryan Leder, Theatre in Black

A Space To Hatch

Sinéad Brady reflects on her Nest Residency:

I’m a Coventry born actor and writer. I moved back to Coventry last Autumn after graduating from Institute of the Arts Barcelona with an MA Acting, where I co-founded international theatre collective Rule of Three Collective, made up of Irish, German and British theatre makers. We co-wrote the show FREE EU ROAMING, which premiered at the Dublin Fringe Festival 2018. Between leaving for university and now I’ve lived in Bristol, Barcelona, San Sebastián, Madrid and Dublin. My writing is usually a response to social injustices and societal pressures that impact the people I meet in the different cities I’ve lived in. I’m passionate about the use of language in theatre and deconstructing dominant narratives. I feel compelled to tell the stories of people who suffer due to political, historical and sociological injustices, which are often too difficult for an individual to resolve on their own.

When I moved home to Coventry Talking Birds were recommended to me by several local artists as an innovative, exciting theatre company engaged in supporting the work of local artists. When I applied to The Nest Residency, I hoped that Talking Birds would help me think about my project in visually and aurally interesting and accessible ways. I also needed space, time, support and a sounding board to work on an idea that I had been thinking about for a long time, but was unable to focus enough, or even believe in enough, while working on my own at home. A space to ‘hatch’ an idea sounded perfect and I felt reassured that with the support of Talking Birds and the wonderful opportunity of working at the Shop Front Theatre, I would make progress with my project.

On the first day of my residency I arrived at the Shop Front Theatre with notebooks, post-its and a new pencil case – I was very excited to be on my own in a black box. The Shop Front Theatre is such an intriguing space full of plays and books to read and plenty of chairs and sofas to try out, but in attempt to focus, I stuck to one corner. I thought that maybe in such a big space I would jump around too much, in my work and literally (I did bring a yoga mat) but the space was very calming. I was familiar with the Shop Front Theatre through performing at Shoot Festival in 2016, attending a Writing Gym earlier this year, and having seen many performances there, most recently Are We Where We Are. It was really useful to work in a space where I had seen performances – I found that inspiring when it came to imagining my own idea being staged and it also helped me keep the audience in mind.

I knew I wanted to create a piece of theatre exploring pressures around body image, delving deep into the language of ‘self-talk’ and the emphasis on self-care as a way of improving our internal and external worlds. I particularly wanted to focus on the competitive nature of striving to become the best version of ourselves. I had imagined creating a piece of audio that would pull an audience off track, ask them to forget about routine and consistency, to stop trying to improve themselves, to ask the questions: what does it really mean to be the best version of ourselves? How in control are we as individuals of who we are? Personally, I’m tired of being told by the media and social media that I could be working harder physically and mentally. I’m tired of being told anything is possible for everyone because, let’s face it, it’s not. I’m scared that the more we look inwards for the answers, the more we forget about the power of working together.

After three days of creating characters and plotting on post-its, I had a mentoring session with Co-Artistic Director and Composer Derek Nisbet. Derek provided invaluable feedback on my idea. We talked about different ways of recording and staging the performance. I was particularly interested in using the format of audio as a way of disconnecting from familiar, potentially addictive, images to create an intimate conversation with the audience. As I was experimenting with the idea of a character in transit, neither here nor there, it was fascinating to explore ways of using sound to show the presence and absence of people and goals. I also found it a brilliant opportunity to ask questions about how to create accessible performances, which led me to consider incorporating visual elements to the piece.
The Nest Residency was a stimulating creative experience, which I’m very grateful for. It filled me with the confidence to trust my ideas and I made great progress in a short space of time. I will continue working on the project and really look forward to sharing my developments with Talking Birds.

If you are an artist interested in applying for one of Talking Birds’ Nest Residencies, you can find out more here.

Cinematica: Artist Rosa Francesca reflects on her Nest Residency visualising brain data.

Artist Rosa Francesca reflects on her Nest Residency:

Cinematica is a digital art project using an EEG monitor in conjunction with an XY pen plotter to create visual art. The participant is invited to wear the EEG headset and their brain data will then be sent to the plotter giving it directions in which to draw, producing in the end a ‘mind-controlled’ drawing. This project was developed during a Nest Residency supported by Talking Birds.

I began my residency at the start of June 2019, and I had applied to Talking Birds in particular after hearing about them through the Coventry Biennial open call. I was particularly impressed with their commitment to accessibility, working with disabled artists, and creating environmentally conscious work. I felt that their views aligned with my own, and in particular related to the aims of my work.

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I first had the idea for Cinematica after being diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome at the start of 2018. I had suffered from motor tics and a few vocal tics for most of my life, and waited until adulthood to seek diagnosis. Although it no longer affects me as harshly as it did during my teenage years, I am a member of an online community for adults with Tourette Syndrome and can see the debilitating effects on others less fortunate than myself. One man described how he was no longer able to make art because of his motor tics which rendered his hands to unsteady to hold a pen or a paintbrush. Other members suggested that he tried digital art, but he wanted the ability to create a physical drawing. I decided then and there to create a means of physical art creation without the necessity of fine motor skills.

I had recently purchased an EEG monitor for artistic purposes anyway, and thought it might be good to put it to good use alongside a plotter, which is a robot arm that draws with a pen and paper moving along an XY axis. Through my Nest Residency, I was able to get support to purchase a plotter and to learn to manually code it and figure out how to send data from the brain monitor to the plotter to create real life brain drawings.

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The residency was invaluable in that it provided me with the physical space to contain the machinery, but also gave me a space away from home where I was able to focus all of my attention on this project. Without time constraints and deadlines I was able to work freely without pressure, but the space still allowed me to stay motivated. Janet provided an incredibly useful sounding board, as did other studio holders in Eaton House where my residency was based. It was a wonderful opportunity to meet other local artists and connect with like-minded individuals, and I hope to stay in touch with some of them through the regular Artspace networking events.

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I was able to present a first draft of my project at the Hello Cov exhibition for Artspace studio holders at The Row in Coventry, and the response was overwhelmingly positive. Although at that point the drawings did not look particularly ‘pretty’, it was still fascinating to see how different people’s brains produced different drawings, and allowed me to build a portfolio to compare how the technology worked for different people in different states of mind.

Overall I am incredibly grateful for this residency. I feel that I have achieved more than expected in this project, and can now build on that knowledge even further.

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You can follow Rosa on Instagram @rosafrancesca.art

The importance of Space and Place: from Coventry to Volgograd

Guest Blog by Nest Resident Artist Sylvia Theuri, reflecting on her Nest Residency.

I began this residency with the aim of further developing my artwork, in particular a project which focused on engaging with Coventry’s twin cities. The twin city that I was concentrating on during the residency was Coventry’s first twin city; Volgograd. I wanted to create new work outside of my home environment and discuss ideas with other artists. I was especially interested in having discussions with Talking Birds as they had previously created a project around twin cities with their “Twin Story” project.

The residency gave me space to think, which is so vital in being able to create interesting and insightful artwork. I was also able to spread out in the studio space, rather than be confined to the dining room table, which often happened when I worked from home. It is interesting that my work is all about spaces, yet I often have limited space to actually create the work. 

IMG_6268The residency also gave me the opportunity to talk. I talked with both Janet and Derek about the city of Volgograd, and because they had both been there, they were able to help me to understand the city better. I talked to other artists based at Coventry Artspace, my temporary neighbours. The residency became somewhat of a “third place” for me, somewhere away from my home environment where I could come and feel connected.

At the end of the 9 weeks, I felt like my work had developed, but more importantly I felt that the way in which I thought about my work had developed more. This was because I had focused time to read, and question myself and my work. Looking back on this residency what I am most thankful for is the “space” I was given to come and think about and engage with ideas about space, ironically.

Photo credits: Volgograd Photos by Nastya Tol; Studio photos by TBs; Postcard washing line and works-in-progress by Sylvia Theuri.

Link to Sylvia’s project site

For more about Sylvia and her work, see her website [link to external site].

Visualising Volgograd

Nest Resident Sylvia Theuri has been visualising Volgograd, Coventry’s Russian twin city.

Last Autumn, as part of Spon Spun Festival, Sylvia sent a postcard of one of her digitally-created urban Coventry landscapes to a cafe in Volgograd.

This led to an online dialogue between Sylvia and the manager of the cafe – and then to this Nest Residency with Talking Birds, where Sylvia is spending time exploring the geography and environment of Volgograd remotely, using online photographs, maps – and making good use of Google Street View!

Here are a few photos of her studio and work in progress snapped earlier this week:

We’ve enjoyed having conversations with Sylvia about her practice and, in particular, her exploration of Volgograd – which has given us plenty of excuses to wallow in a bit of affectionate nostalgia around our visit there and our collaborations with artists in the city.

[Talking Birds has a long association with Volgograd, which began with Twin60 (marking the 60th anniversary of the Coventry-Volgograd twinning); has involved visiting artists in Volgograd and bringing musician Slava Mishin and artist Fedor Ermalov over to Coventry in 2006 to play at The Tin and take part in an exhibition at the Herbert which twinned works by artists in the two cities; artists’ talks which played simultaneously in both cities with artists communicating via Skype; an exhibition (still in situ outside Coventry library) of work by children in both cities; and the world premiere of Twin Song composed for the Volgograd Children’s Symphony Orchestra and Coventry Youth Wind Orchestra, conducted by Yuri Ilynov, which premiered at Coventry Cathedral in 2014.]